Success in education celebrates here

I've met movers and shakers, but I never met another Patti-Jo Shapiro. When she entered my "What Makes Gwinnett Great" essay contest, she thought, "I've never done this before, but why not?"

Then she won. Most people would have just pocketed the prize money and enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame. Not Shapiro.

After letting her daughters Alaina and Laurel know she won a prize for her first attempt at writing, she posted my column with her essay on the Internet. She wants everyone to know how Gwinnett values education and that to symbolize our strength she wants our water towers topped with graduation caps.

But she doesn't stop at the computer screen. She gets up front and personal in her mission by handing out copies of "that column" to everyone she meets. And as a student in the Senior Leadership Gwinnett program, she's met people like Kathy Cox, Jose Perez, Charles Bannister and Michael Thurmond. They all smiled at her idea, she said.

It doesn't stop there. As co-chair of the 2006 Lilburn Christmas Parade, sponsored by the Lilburn Business Association, Shapiro's parading her passion with the theme "Gwinnett Grows Graduates," proclaiming the best gift a community can give is a good education.

Shapiro started locally by recruiting the Berkmar FAST Steppers, Trickum basketball players and cheerleaders and Parkview cluster principals.

"This is exciting. I've never been in a Christmas parade before and I'm excited that it supports education," said Parkview principal "Buck" Buchanan.

Then she ventured beyond her own backyard, gaining countywide support for her small-town parade. David Chandley of WSB-TV will preside over the 1,000 participants, including horses and squires from Medieval Times restaurant, the Stone Mountain Hogs and an array of antique cars and tractors.

In her quest for the best, Shapiro found two Tiffanys in tune with her efforts: Mill Creek High School singing sensation Tiffany Milagro will perform songs from her Christmas CD, and Gwinnett's Teacher of the Year, Sugar Hill music teacher Tiffany English, will support the cause.

"Education is a community effort ... With the community on board, our kids will reap enormous rewards," English said.

Thor Johnson, Lilburn Business Association president, loves the educational theme.

"I was Principal for a Day at Louise Radloff Middle School and it just reinforced my commitment to do what I can to support Gwinnett's educators," he said.

The Lilburn Parade begins at 10 a.m. Saturday in Lilburn Park (www.lilburnparade.org).

And will Shapiro's dream someday be a towering success? I'd say she has it capped off!

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.